Sunday, May 14, 2006

Open-Sourced Art for Alaa

seif fattahOn Saturday, Mama Junkyard became the most recent blogger to re-interpret art in protest of the detention of Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd al-Fatah. She re-wrote a poem by Guyanese author Grace Nichols called "Of Course When They Ask for Poems About the 'Realities'of Black Women," into "Of Course When They Ask for Poems About the 'Realities'of Egypt." Her new poem is not only a vivid expression of the myth and reality of Egypt but also, subtly, a google bomb, since every instance of the word Egypt was linked to the Free Alaa site. Here is the new poem. It is so wonderful I am posting it in its entirety:
Of Course When They Ask for Poems About the 'Realities'of Egypt

What they really want
at times
is a specimen
of an Egyptian king encased in a British museum

Egyptian hieroglyphics
etched on Egyptian pyramids
guarded by Egyptian Sphinxes
they want an Egyptian body
swaddled in white robes and mummified
and validation
for the stereotype
already in their heads

Or else they want
celluloid myths
of a white Cleopatra

I can say I can write
no poem big enough
to hold the essence

of Egypt
or an Egyptian woman
or an Egyptian man

Maybe this poem is to say,
that I like to see
all Egyptians
free and unafraid to blog

Typing away
with each stroke of the keyboard
the twisted self-negating
history
they’ve inherited

Typing away
with each stroke of the keyboard

This is only one example of bloggers who have re-imagined songs or poems as a way of protesting Alaa's detention. Others include Mental Acrobatics, whose re-writing of the old spiritual "When Israel was in Egypt's Land" appeared in this blog last week. Here is a line of that re-writing:

Stand up bloggers; stand up for Egypt’s scribes
Tell old Pharaoh, Let our people go
In addition, Mshaira re-wrote one of her own poems to make in into a google bomb for Alaa. Although the content of her poem was not political, it also exemplified the ability of a simple meme - the google bomb for Alaa - to be transformed by individual inspiration and creativity.

Re-writing the (credited) artwork of another is the oldest form of open-sourcing. I am so glad this pre-digital form of re-interpretation is being used to give new meaning to the Free Alaa campaign.

These re-writings also give new meaning to the works of art themselves. Now Grace Nichol's poem is not only about the "twisted self-negating history" of black women, but also the "twisted self-negating history" of Egypt. Now "When Israel was in Egypt's Land" is no longer only about the ancient Jews or America's slaves but also about modern political activists.

Open-source means building our own creativity upon the creativity of others. The art grows richer with each voice that tells it.

categories: internet activism_

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